In 2004, the Festival continued its long tradition of presenting the diverse cultural heritage of the people of the United States and the world to large public audiences in an educational, respectful, and profoundly democratic way, with three major programs and the Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert honoring longtime collaborator, Roland Freeman.
In 2004, the Haitian people marked the bicentennial of their independence. In 1804, inspired by American and French ideals, Haitians fought for their own freedom, abolished slavery, and created the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere. Haitians have sought freedom and liberty ever since, and through tough times have relied on their rich culture and seemingly boundless creativity to persevere. The Festival program, in the planning for several years, came at what was obviously an important time for Haitians and Americans - particularly Haitian Americans. It provided an excellent opportunity for Haitians to tell their own stories through their skill and artistry, and for Festival visitors to learn from them.
The inaugural program in a planned multi-year sequence, the Latino music program helped the Smithsonian reach out to a major segment of the American population not only as audience, but also as presenters, performers, and spokespeople for their own cultural expressions. Latino music includes a wide variety of traditions now energizing social and community life in the United States. Some are centuries old and reach back to early indigenous, European, and African roots. Others have come to us more recently, with immigrants from south of our border. Sharing these traditions broadly at the Festival contributed to a valuable and needed cultural dialogue, particularly one involving the growing number of Washingtonians of Latino heritage.
The Mid-Atlantic maritime program allowed the Smithsonian to convene a public discussion of "water ways" spanning six eastern seaboard states. Many people and communities depend upon the ocean, coast, bays, and rivers for their livelihoods - whether through commercial fishing and aquaculture or recreation and tourism. At the time of the Festival, homes, jobs, and ways of life were facing unprecedented economic and ecological challenges. The Festival program brought together scores of workers, professionals, and officials who used, monitored, and regulated these water ways to demonstrate their knowledge and inform visitors about the key issues facing them.
The 2004 Festival took place for two five-day weeks (June 23-27 and June 30-July 4) between Madison Drive and Jefferson Drive and between 10th Street and 14th Street, south of the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History.